A powerhouse duo in American film, acclaimed director Martin Scorsese and award-winning actor Robert De Niro have worked together to create some of the most outstanding features. Under Scorsese’s direction, De Niro has turned out some of his most notable performances in truly spectacular narratives.
Scorsese’s films often explore themes such as money, violence, masculinity and choices, all carried out through a gritty yet beautiful style of filmmaking. De Niro’s characters, within those frameworks, are essential vehicles of progression in the films’ stories.
Their collaborations have come in different genres – crime, psychological or drama- and span nearly five decades. Some of these titles are studied and loved years after release, while others are more underrated gems. With the release of Killers of the Flower Moon approaching as the next collaboration, let’s revisit the times these two masters of their craft have come together.
Check out the list below.
Ranking Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro movie:
10. New York, New York (1977)
The third film Scorsese and De Niro worked on is a musical love story between a big-headed sax player and a young singer with a dream. The film explores the conflicting balance between careers and relationships as when the former goes up for the two; the latter goes down.
This rocky romance portrays a realistic look at toxic love, with De Niro’s performance as Jimmy showing a fair amount of unideal traits that complicate things for the woman he loves. Scorsese was aiming for a love letter to the jazzy musicals of the golden age, yet there resides a general census that the film could have been a tad bit more coherent.
9. The Audition (2015)
The first Scorsese and De Niro collaboration of the 2010s has the shortest run time of just 15 minutes. However, there is a lot to offer in this short amount of time, as the story holds some satire on the entertainment industry. De Niro stars alongside heartthrob Leonardo DiCaprio, the two playing caricatures of themselves in a competition to star in an upcoming movie directed by one of the most famous directors.
The dialogue is entertaining for De Niro and DiCaprio buffs because both stars spend their screen time poking fun at the other’s expense, giving the script a feel of Curb Your Enthusiasm. The film also had the more sinister intention of promoting a casino in China.
8. Mean Streets (1973)
This seminal crime film is the one that started it all. Mean Streets focuses on an Italian-American hood called Charlie (Harvey Keitel), who negotiates between his relationships and the opportunity to make a name for himself in the mob. De Niro steals some of the show in the supporting role of his complex companion Johnny Boy, a reckless and self-destructive time bomb.
Even though Johnny Boy is not the film’s main character, it’s impossible not to pay full attention to him whenever he’s onscreen. His performance earned him a Best Supporting Actor award from the New York Film Critics Circle. Alongside this magnetic performance, Scorsese shows some of his best character and story direction in this film. He incorporates both setting and soundtrack to work alongside the performances to elevate every unspoken thought or goal the characters have.
7. Cape Fear (1991)
Scorsese reinvented J. Lee Thompson’s American noir thriller, released in 1962, by reimagining it through his unique definitions of cinema. A convicted offender seeks revenge for his 14-year imprisonment, something he misbelieves happened to him due to some disingenuous tactics.
De Niro gives a sinister and terrifying performance in this picture; he completely throws himself into the rage and venom of the character. The story is an anxiety-inducing pressure cooker that will make every hair stand up. This film is the result of Scorsese taking some inspiration from the standard Hitchcock thrillers, but with just a little more edge.
6. The Irishman (2019)
This epic crime drama film is the most recent Scorsese-De Niro collaboration, featuring a powerhouse cast alongside De Niro as Al Pacino and Joe Pesci join him onscreen. De Niro takes the role of a truck driver turned hitman after getting mixed up with a mobster.
The film gained attention and praise for its quality storytelling and performances and the digital technique of de-ageing its main cast. It taps into that nostalgia that lifelong Scorsese and De Niro fans hold. With a budget of $250 million and a hefty runtime of 209 minutes, this collaboration between the two is the lengthiest and most expensive contribution to Scorsese’s filmography.
5. The King of Comedy (1982)
This 1980s flick provides a break in tone due to its black comedy tone. De Niro plays an aspiring stand-up comedian who convinces himself that stalking his idol, a talk show host played by Jerry Lewis, is the way to success and fame.
Scorsese’s direction provides a satirical take on American culture’s obsession with media and celebrity worship. De Niro represents an unsettling yet painfully realistic delusion that drives the struggling artist to extreme lengths as he slowly becomes a stalker. However, Todd Phillips soon placed him on the other end of this dynamic.
4. Casino (1995)
This film takes place in early 1970s Las Vegas. A low-ranking mobster – played by De Niro – starts a new job at a casino and, despite his initial success, faces a few problems with enforcers, con artists and women.
Scorsese’s direction emphasises the vivid vision, with colourful suits and excessive artificial lighting decking the casino from top to bottom. De Niro is consistent in his performance, carrying out alongside the wildly entertaining story that has a little history hidden within it.
3. Raging Bull (1980)
Scorsese takes a more biographical route with the now-iconic sports drama Raging Bull. De Niro comes under his direction as Jake LaMotta, an unstoppable force in the form of a boxer. He may be a champion in the ring, but he is far from one at home.
This film has been known to rival Stallone’s Rocky franchise for the title of the best boxing movie of all time, and it puts up more than a good fight. It’s a powerful, heartbreaking film that explores the Madonna-Whore complex alongside good sportsmanship, all elevated by another brilliant performance by De Niro.
2. Goodfellas (1990)
This entry is another biographical film which explores the world of crime instead of sports. A half-Irish and half-Italian youngster, Henry (played by Ray Liotta) finds himself caught up in the materialistic and dangerous world of American gangsters; the last thing he wants is to be pulled away. With De Niro’s Jimmy taking him under his wing, Henry learns the role of a gangster dangerously well and fast.
Scorsese’s movie, often cited as the greatest gangster film ever made, builds up and up from a luxurious paradise into one of emotional turmoil. De Niro’s performance as Jimmy is one of the film’s hooks, with every emotion and plan to hide dead bodies delivered perfectly.
1. Taxi Driver (1976)
You talkin’ to me?
This gritty and heavy thriller holds De Niro’s most iconic role as a veteran who slowly loses sense of reality in a morally decaying city. He barely attempts to suppress his taste for destruction and takes it upon himself to rescue an abused child, who is played brilliantly by a young Jodie Foster.
Scorsese directs and shows the hidden urge for familiar violence that war creates, all while building a story world where no corner feels genuinely safe. De Niro plays Travis, the taxi driver, with a magnetic yet chaotic pull. His complete immersion in the psychological breakdown is unarguably authentic and earned him an Oscar nomination. This masterpiece is the definitive addition to both their illustrious legacies.